Garden Trend: Gardening with a Conscience

As we continue to look at trends in gardening, we see that there is a growing trend in approaching gardening in a more ethical, or conscientious, way.

The intent is not just to reduce environmental impacts, but to garden for the benefit of both the land and the gardener (and those affected by the garden).

It is a look at growing good food all the while reducing inputs and focusing on finding balance between the desires of the gardener and Mother Nature.

In his book “Second Nature: A Gardener’s Education,” Michael Pollan states that the gardener “recognizes that he is dependent for his health and survival on many other forms of life, so he is careful to take their interests into account in whatever he does. He is in fact a wilderness advocate of a certain kind. It is when he respects and nurtures the wilderness of his soil and his plants that his garden seems to flourish most. Wildness, he has found, resides not only out there, but right here: in his soil, in his plants, even in himself.”

Pollan continues:

“But wildness is more a quality than a place, and though humans can’t manufacture it, they can nourish and husband it.

“The gardener cultivates wildness, but he does so carefully and respectfully, in full recognition of its mystery.”

There are several ways that gardeners can be more thoughtful stewards, of both themselves and the world around them, so that all may flourish. Here are a few ideas you should think about:

Gardening for pollinators

It is no secret that pollinators, especially honeybees, have had a tough go of it lately. Lots of potential problems are suspected in causing colony collapse disorder, a devastating loss of honeybees.

Honeybees are responsible for pollinating around 30 percent of the world’s total food crops, and around 70 percent of the top crops. Without pollination, our diets would be much blander with the loss of a majority of our fruits and vegetables.

That’s why gardening for pollinators — all pollinators — is important. Honeybees are actually a foreign import from Europe, so many efforts are being made to support our native pollinators, including bees, butterflies, moths and birds.

The key to supporting pollinators is to provide for them a variety of food, shelter (bee boxes, and even trees and shrubs) and water.

For a good guide to learn about pollinator gardening, I’ll suggest visiting the Pollinator Partnership at and finding the gardening guide for our region. The Pollinator Partnership also has an app you can download on your phone that you can use while you shop.

Natural/organic growing

Organics have become a big business in the grocery store, so it is no secret that organic gardening is on the rise. People like to garden organically not only for reducing pesticides on the foods they eat, but also reducing the potential environmental impacts of pesticides.They are also using organic soil amendments as opposed to the traditional chemical fertilizers, which has long-term benefits for soil health.

While I have talked to many folks that insist on a total “no spray” policy in their garden, I will point out that there are many organic options for controlling pests and diseases that come from plant extracts, bacteria and more. These are approved for organic use and can help improve the quality of produce and the productivity of the garden. I’ve heard the term “organic by neglect” used before, and I caution anyone who doesn’t deal with infestations responsibly that they could be causing bigger problems than they know — garden and farm pests and diseases have been popping up a lot recently. You’d hate for your garden to be the Typhoid Mary in the next garden epidemic.

Reducing lawns/lawn inputs

Those who read my column often will know that I really have no love of lawns. Most experts agree that lawns are not environmentally friendly. A perfectly manicured lawn takes not only labor input, but also lots of fertilizer, weed killer and, usually, water in the dry season. Not to mention, lawns are food deserts for pollinators and often other creepy crawlies.

Maintenance usually requires gas-powered equipment that increases your carbon footprint. Instead, consider increasing the size of landscape beds or forgo grass altogether — I’m still contemplating ripping out all of the grass and sowing white clover. It would be low maintenance (no mowing!) and great for bees.

Growing “superfoods”

With an ever increasing consciousness of eating healthier foods, growing colorful, antioxidant-rich foods can help people increase their good food intake and better take care of themselves.


The use of mulch reduces the amount of water needed for the garden while also reducing weeds that would require removal or spraying. Mulching also gives gardens a cleaner look and feeds the soil — those wood mulches compost in place over time and feed the soil below.

Cover crops

This is a technique that is gaining ground in vegetable gardening. The planting of cover crops can serve several purposes. First, a winter cover crop can reduce erosion by limiting the amount of exposed soil. Second, it acts as a green manure when you either cut it down and till it in the spring, use it as a mulch, or add it back as compost.

Other benefits include improved soil texture and reducing weeds from season to season.

No-till gardening

It is now apparent to many experts that tilling up the garden is bad practice. Breaking up the soil can lead to erosion, and also damages good soil texture and disturbs the balance of good microbes and insects. Instead, those with smaller gardens can use mulches or employ a layer garden technique called lasagna gardening to eliminate tilling. Those with larger plots can use cover crops like winter wheat or rye that is then broken over by using a heavy roller or foot-powered crimper or cut down with a weed trimmer.

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One thought on “Garden Trend: Gardening with a Conscience

  1. Purple loosestrife is a dreaded invasive in Vermont. BUT! Its later-season magenta flowers provide nectar and pollen that strengthens hives and helps the honeybees survive through the winter. Makes a fairly tasty honey, as well. In its blind effort to kill off the magental monster, Vermont may be weakening the honeybee colonies which greatly reduces crop pollination which greatly reduces farmer’s income. Who is right?

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